Book Review: The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman

The Life She Was GivenOn a summer evening in 1931, Lilly Blackwood glimpses circus lights from the grimy window of her attic bedroom. Lilly isn’t allowed to explore the meadows around Blackwood Manor. She’s never even ventured beyond her narrow room. Momma insists it’s for Lilly’s own protection, that people would be afraid if they saw her. But on this unforgettable night, Lilly is taken outside for the first time–and sold to the circus sideshow.

More than two decades later, nineteen-year-old Julia Blackwood has inherited her parents’ estate and horse farm. For Julia, home was an unhappy place full of strict rules and forbidden rooms, and she hopes that returning might erase those painful memories. Instead, she becomes immersed in a mystery involving a hidden attic room and photos of circus scenes featuring a striking young girl.

At first, The Barlow Brothers’ Circus is just another prison for Lilly. But in this rag-tag, sometimes brutal world, Lilly discovers strength, friendship, and a rare affinity for animals. Soon, thanks to elephants Pepper and JoJo and their handler, Cole, Lilly is no longer a sideshow spectacle but the circus’s biggest attraction. . .until tragedy and cruelty collide. It will fall to Julia to learn the truth about Lilly’s fate and her family’s shocking betrayal, and find a way to make Blackwood Manor into a place of healing at last.

My thoughts:

If I remember correctly in the last few years I have read a total-including this one-three book that include a circus setting. These stories capture my attention for many reasons. Especially when the story takes place during the depression era in the early 20th Century. The Life She Was Given has a uniqueness to the story unlike the others I have read before it. It should be obvious what it is by reading the book description.

Normally, when I read stories this good, I devour it in a couple of days but I decided to savory this one. During the 1930’s and into the 40’s, the circus struggled to stay open due to the depression. Often times they had to make tough choices and this story shows some of that.  Often times they were cruel, heartbreaking and unnecessary decisions. I have to say that ignorance plays a big part in the decisions. Another theme in this story was the “freak Show,” and how these extraordinary people were treated. There are several other themes to this story that moved me and really portrays how cruel life can be. We all have many things to learn from this story and I highly recommend people read this book.

Wiseman’s ardent portrayal of an era, subject and setting, sets the stage for an unforgettable read.

I have rated this book five stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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Cover Crush: Oil and Marble (A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo) by Stephanie Storey

Cover Crush banner

I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

Oil and Marble A Novel of Leonardo and MichelangeloOil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo by Stephanie Storey

Hardcover, 320 pages

Published March 1st 2016 by Arcade Publishing

Legendary geniuses clash in both art and life in this “tremendously entertaining” novel of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo (The New York Times).

For a few years at the very beginning of the sixteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti both lived and worked in Florence. Leonardo was a charming, handsome fifty-year-old at the peak of his career. Michelangelo was a temperamental sculptor in his mid-twenties, desperate to make a name for himself.

Michelangelo is a virtual unknown when he wins the commission to carve what will become one of the most famous sculptures of all time: David. Even though his impoverished family shuns him for being an artist, he is desperate to support them. Living at the foot of his misshapen block of marble, Michelangelo struggles until the stone finally begins to speak. Working against an impossible deadline, he begins his feverish carving.

Meanwhile, Leonardo’s life is falling apart: he loses the hoped-for David commission; he can’t seem to finish any project; he is obsessed with his ungainly flying machine; he almost dies in war; his engineering designs disastrously fail; and he is haunted by a woman he has seen in the market—a merchant’s wife, whom he is finally commissioned to paint. Her name is Lisa, and she becomes his muse.

Leonardo despises Michelangelo for his youth and lack of sophistication. Michelangelo both loathes and worships Leonardo’s genius. Both will become immortal through their art.

Oil and Marble is the story of their nearly forgotten rivalry and “a rewarding read for art aficionados and fans of historical fiction” (Booklist). Here, Stephanie Storey brings early 16th-century Florence alive, bringing to life the minds and souls of two Renaissance masters with extraordinary empathy.

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My thoughts on the cover, title and premise:

I came across this book on Amazon and as an art history lover, I became intrigue with its cover. I recognized the style and hue immediately. How in the world have I not come across this book already, I ask myself? I love everything about the cover, title and premise. I look forward to reading the story to find out if it is as good as it looks.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary. Her latest cover crush HERE

Other great book bloggers who cover crush:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede-Coming soon

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books-Coming soon

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation-Coming soon

Meghan @ Of Quills & Vellum-Coming soon

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Interview with Award Winning Author Lis Anna-Langston

Lis Anna-Langston

I’d like to welcome Award Winning Author Lis Anna-Langston to Layered Pages. Lis is a Parents’ Choice Gold Book Award winner, a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award winner and the Dante Rossetti First Place Award winner for YA Fiction. She is the author of Tupelo Honey, Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond and the short story collection, Tolstoy & the Checkout Girl. Born in the South she loves writing about misfits, screw ups, outlaws and people who generally don’t fit into nicely labeled boxes. She loves zany, wild rides and is the recipient of many awards including; a two-time Pushcart nominee, a five-time WorldFest winner, Telluride IndieFest winner, Helene Wurlitzer Grant recipient, New Century Writers winner, a finalist in the prestigious William Faulkner Competition, & Second Place Winner of the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Award. She writes Young Adult, New Adult and Middle Grade novels and loves every second of it.

Lis, please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.

I have entered many contests in my career but this is the first book I’ve had go to print. So, I created a list of book award contests and entered. Parents’ Choice, Moonbeam, Literary Classics and IndieBRAG were all on the list and I entered and won each one.

Tell me about your book, Tupelo Honey.

Tupelo Honey

Well, each person sees the book slightly differently. I think this story is about a little girl trying to manage the insanity of her family. I really loved Teresa DiFalco’s review from Parents’ Choice Awards. I think she summed it up so well:

Tupelo Honey is a delight. Set in rural Mississippi, with a cast of colorful southerners, it stars one pretty dysfunctional family at the center of which is Tupelo Honey. Author Lis Anna-Langston gets into the head of her title girl completely, taking readers on a ride of a sort of haunted but beautiful mess. To paraphrase Tolstoy, it’s the unhappy families that are unique — and by definition, often more interesting. Tupelo Honey does not have an easy life, on the surface. Her mother is a drug addict, and mental illness lingers in her grandmother Marmalade’s house like a hot humid August cloud. Yet Anna-Langston still fills it with gems. It’s certainly not a dull life, one full of heartbreaks big and small, but this tough sweet girl pulls it off with aplomb. It’s a treat from start to end. Langston has written rich, vivid characters, and painted a vibrant mosaic of a year in one young southern girl’s life. It’s a hard book to put down, and one you won’t want to end. I envy its future readers.”

What was the inspiration for your story?

A lot of this story came from a creative memoir class I took in North Carolina. It was one of the first writing classes I’d ever taken. I studied literature in college but I did not take writing classes. So, I wrote to the class prompts. My classmates loved these stories so I kept writing and they made me promise I’d complete the book. At some point, I decided to add in fictional scenes or change the chronology of events and at that point I switched it to fiction.  Those classes were hard and honestly, I wanted to quit. My roommate said, “That’s exactly why you should keep taking the class.” She was right. My inspiration came from hearing the stories of my classmates and organizing the material I created every day.

Set the scene for Northern Mississippi in your story.

Well, I grew up in North Mississippi. It was an amazing place with staggering poverty at the time. The light slants low over the earth in Mississippi in the late summer in a way I’ve never witnessed anywhere else. It is a land of triumph and simplicity, a place where people knew their neighbors and talked to each other. Even back in the 90’s they still had party lines in Mississippi. For some reason, I thought that was awesome. They weren’t racing to catch up with technology. It is also partly set in Mexico City which is my favorite city on Earth.

What are Tupelo’s strengths and weaknesses?

I think her strength is her weakness to some degree. She is a little girl who can survive anything but she has to get to the point where she steps out of that circle and begins to thrive. Her strength is her ability to love and constantly find the good in people. She is incredibly resilient and likeable. Her weaknesses really come from outside of her in the form of her mother’s addictions.

How long did it take to write your story and what was your process?

This book is comprised of sections cut from another book. I wrote a book entitled Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond. That book was four hundred pages long and geared more to adults. That book was optioned and turned into a screenplay. In the process of rewriting the book and creating the screenplay a lot was cut, changed, enriched, deepened. It left me with a lot of excess material. One day I compiled all the cut sections and chapters and realized it had a real theme and plot. What had been cut was similar in tone and rising action. So, from the cutting room floor Tupelo Honey began to rise. The actual book took me about three or four weeks to rewrite and put together from that point.

Who designed your book cover?

Me. I designed the cover. Photography and design are skills I’ve possessed for a long time. I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like and kept searching and creating drafts. Finally, I put together the cover and paid a graphic design artist in Africa to do the layout on the back.

Where can readers buy your book?

Tupelo Honey is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, and it is available for instant purchase via Kindle and Nook.

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

itunes

Kobo

What is up next for you?

A grand adventure with the new middle grade and YA books I’ve just finished. These books are particularly electric and filled with great energy and excitement. My agent is shopping them around now. I’m involved in a few film projects. I’m always working on about five projects at a time. Just about everything I create is for a middle grade or young adult audience.

Is there a message you would like to give to your readers?

I LOVE writing for YOU! I love, love, love it. I love entertaining people and bringing laughs and tears into a reader’s life. Okay, the good kinda tears. 🙂 I love it when I am totally swept up in a story, when the world quietly slips away. I aim to accomplish this with my readers. Readers are the lifeblood of the publishing world.

Author Website

Tupelo Honey MemeMore about Lis:

Her fiction has been published in Word Riot, The Blotter, Petigru Review, Hot Metal Press, The Smoking Poet, Eclectic Flash Literary Journal, Paper Skin Glass Bones, 491 Magazine, Fiction Fix, The Monarch Review, 5×5 Literary Magazine, Red Booth Review, Hint Fiction Anthology, Chamber Four Literary Magazine, Emyrs Journal, Literary Laundry, Barely South Review, Flash Fiction Offensive, Flashquake Literary Journal, Steel Toe Review, Cactus Heart Press, Empty Sink Publishing, Prick of the Spindle Literary Review, Per Contra, Storyacious, Gravel Literary, Bedlam Publishing, New Plains Review, The Merrimack Review, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Kaaterskill Basin Journal, Sand Hill Review, Conclave. Milk Journal and The MacGuffin Literary Review.

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Lis Anna-Langston who is the author of, Tupelo Honey, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Tupelo Honey, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

indiebrag-team-member

 

Social Stratification in the Arts

by Mitchell James Kaplan

We want to believe in the tired cliché, La Boheme, the noble artist-as-rebel rejecting the vanity of status and the pecking order. This is of course a romantic notion – the artist as conscience, free of society’s hangups, liberated through self-expression. Its roots extend deeper than the romantic period, back to the medieval monastery – the ultimate opt-out for aristocrats who yearned for a more authentic life.

In reality, the society of artists is not different than any other society. Speaking only of literary society, which I know better than the others: there is an upper class of Nobel, Pulitzer, and Man Booker Prize winners. There’s an upper-middle class of best-selling authors. There’s a middle class that, like the middle class in the rest of society, has been dramatically shrinking through the last decades. In the publishing industry, this stratum is called the “mid-list.” And there’s the lower class of self-published authors – “lower-class,” that is, in the eyes of some conventionally published authors.

Authors can occasionally climb up this totem pole, but it isn’t easy. A parvenu has a hard time gaining acceptance in old-money circles. And then there are the nobles déchus, those whose Nobel prizes are growing dusty. They’re no longer earning, but they retain their pedigree. Perhaps the bottle speaks to them more, these days, than the Muse. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter what they write, anyway. No matter what they scribble, the critics will line up in praise. Their place on the totem pole is fixed.

Clearly, there are two status symbols that determine where an author fits in this social system, prizes and money. These markers serve two primary purposes: they determine the pecking order within the society of artists (who gets to express contempt for whom, and who gets to envy whom) and they help steer readers toward “books of quality.”

But what, exactly, is a book of quality? I’ll give you a hint. Study Literature at the college of your choosing. Get a PhD, even. You’ll get to read of lot of great books. But no one will be able to tell you why they’re great. On the day when you receive your degree, you still won’t be able to answer that most basic of questions any better than people who never finished college – or never even started – people like Maya Angelou, Truman Capote, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, and William Shakespeare.

Don’t get me wrong. Within the context of any culture, at a given moment, there may well be something like a consensus. Books that reflect the world-view of the educated class are going to win the prizes. Everyone likes a mirror, after all. At least, everyone who considers herself or himself to be beautiful. And books that express the yearnings and fears of the merchant and professional classes will earn their authors substantial material rewards. But none of this has anything to do with quality. Some of my favorite living authors have been the recipients of major prizes. Some are best-sellers. Some are unknown.

Quality is not measured in dollars or prizes. Quality is measured in the taste buds. You know it when you bite into it. And the good news is, there are still authors who care about quality more than status. But, as in every age, they are few and far between. And you may not find them where you would expect to find them. Sometimes, browsing in a used book store, I’ll pull out a tome that no one has seen in decades, start reading, and think, Wow, I never heard of this author. This is great. Maybe no one else ever heard of that author, either. Maybe no one ever will.

I think of Felix Mendelsohn, and how he revived the reputation of Johann Sebastian Bach. What would have happened to Bach, had Mendelsohn not come along? But then, Bach wrote for God, not for man. Maybe, just maybe, wherever he is – in the ground, in heaven – Bach doesn’t really care.

About Author:

Mitchell Kaplan Streawberry fields

Mitchell James Kaplan, a graduate of Yale University, is the author of the prize-winning novel, “By Fire, By Water.” He is currently putting the final touches on his second novel, “Same Stars, Different Constellations,” which is set in Brittania, Rome, and Judea in the first century.

By Fire, By WaterAbout By Fire, By Water:

Paperback: 284 pages

Published May 18, 2010

Recipient of the Independent Publishers Award for Historical Fiction (Gold Medal), the Foreword Book of the Year Award for Historical Fiction (Bronze Medal), and an honorable mention in the category of General Fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award.

Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands.  But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him.

Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.

Available on Amazon HERE

 

Interview with Multi Award Winning Author Kandi M. Siegel

Kandie S BRAG

I’d like to welcome back multi award winning author Kandi M. Siegel to Layered Pages. Kandi graduated from University of Central Florida is 2006 earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and was also certified in Special Education.  She received the Editor’s Choice Award for outstanding achievement in poetry by the National Library of Poetry in 1997.  She has been a member of the Space Coast Writer’s Guild since 2012. In 2008, Ms. Siegel was hurt on the job while working with special education and was unable to continue her job.  Her love for children brought her back to her earlier career of storytelling.  She finds writing books for children and meeting people at book signings a very rewarding experience.

Hi, Kandi! Thank you for visiting with me again! Congrats on your second B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree! That is wonderful! Please tell me about your story, A Dog for Leo.

A Dog for Leo BRAG

It is my absolute honor to be a part of the B.R.A.G. family!!

A Dog for Leo was written for my Uncle Leo.  He was the best uncle in the whole world but died too soon from throat cancer.  I wanted to do something to honor his memory so I wrote a book about him.  In the book, the other main character, Marty, is actually my other uncle, who is still very much alive.  They were brothers.  Other family members are also mentioned in the book, such as my mom Sylvia.  I remember hearing stories of when my uncle was a boy and he wanted a dog so that’s where I got the idea from.  It’s actually a made-up story from an idea of him wanting a puppy (which he actually won from a boy scout contest).  Anyway, A Dog for Leo, is about a young boy who wants a dog but his parents don’t think he’s responsible enough because of certain situations that come out throughout the story.  Leo is going to have to prove that he is responsible enough to care for a dog.

Is there a special message you would like to give to your readers to encourage them to read your story?

Yes, the story is all about being responsible.  It also proves that no one is perfect and although Leo tries to be responsible, he goes through several bumps in the road, to get there.  This book is perfect for any preteen to read who really wants something, but what they want isn’t just going to be handed to them on a silver platter.  In the book, Leo has to work hard to obtain his goal.  He will realize that being lazy isn’t going to get him what he wants.  He needs to prove not only to his parents, but to himself, that anything worth having, is worth working for.  This book is specifically designed for young adults.

Who designed your book cover?

I hired Debbie Johnson to illustrate the cover of A Dog for Leo.  I was very specific with the pictures I wanted on the cover and throughout the book.  I wanted the two main characters to look like my two uncles.  I gave her pictures of them and she really made them come alive in the book.  I also have a puggle and I wanted her to be on the cover with Leo.  I also gave Debbie a picture of my dog and I actually cried when I saw the cover because the boy looked so much like pictures of my uncle when he was a young boy and she totally captured my dog Layla. I was so happy with her work that I’ve actually hired her to illustrate other books of mine and I have passed on her name to other authors looking for an illustrator.

Where can readers buy your book?

Kandi II

My book is available on Amazon

In our last interview, together, you talked about when you were a child you would keep all the stories you write in a box. How many stories did you write and what has the experience been like for you to give your stories to the world?

My book, “My Summer Triumph,” is a story about me at about 11 years old and it was my first time at overnight camp.  I was bullied there and the story talks about what I went through and how I was able to triumph over defeat.  The story is very inspirational to anyone that has ever been bullied or who has bullied someone.  It shows how heart wrenching it can feel to the person who is being bullied.   This particular book also showed the bully having a turnabout with her feelings too.  This book is on the same reading level, young adult, as “A Dog for Leo.”

Another story I wrote, “Looking Back, No Regrets, Memoirs from the Heart,” is a collaboration of short stories of different relationships I had throughout my life from my first kiss, to a high school crush, online dating, etc.  It’s filled with all kinds of emotions.  This book is actually for ages 18+ although some parents have bought this book for their 16 and 17-year-old daughters who were in dating mode. A couple stories in the book actually makes the reader more aware of red flags to look for in relationships.

On behalf of National Dog Day that took place yesterday, tell me a little about the qualities you like in dogs and how you believe dogs are important to society.

Kandi I

I have always been a dog person as I grew up with dogs in the house and to this day, I still am never a dogless house.  As a child, it helps with teaching responsibility and to care for something else other than yourself, from things as simple as feeding the dog to walking the dog.  The dog depends on its owner to care for them but there are so many rewards given back.  A dog has a very keen sense of when something is wrong.  For instance, when I’m sad, my dog always seems to be able to pick up on that and will come over to me and lay her head on my lap.  It’s so comforting and after sitting with me just for a few minutes and cuddling, I start to feel so much better.  Dogs are also great protectors of their masters.  They seem to know when the situation changes and will jump right in to protect their master at all cost.  That’s why it is so important to give that love right back to your pet.  I have no tolerance for people who abuse their animals.  They are there to love and protect you and you need to honor, care for and love them back, always!!!

How often do you write during the week?

I always have some sort of writing project in the works, so I usually write just about every day in some form.  Whether it be writing an outline for a new book, or scribbling notes for a new book idea that I’d like to write about.

What is your current writing project?

Currently, I am finishing up my cookbook that I’ve been working on for the past year.  Several of my friends had asked me to put my recipes into a book and honestly, I did not realize what an undertaking it was to write a cookbook.  I have two more recipes that I will be making tomorrow and then taking pictures of the finished product for the cookbook and I’m happy to say it will be completed.  I will be sending the book off to my editor next week and I’m planning on a mid-September release date.  The book is going to be called, “Cooking with Kandi.”  I’m really very excited and pleased with the outcome of this book.

You can check out all of my books my going on my website

Thank you, Kandi!

I thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Kandi M. Siegel who is the author of, A Dog for Leo, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, A Dog for Leo, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

indiebrag-team-member

 

Wish-List 5: Agatha Christie

Steph Pic retakeYesterday I intended to have second post to post that day and time got away from me and my daughter and I went to a late movie. The film we went to see was Birth of a Dragon and it was suburb! My daughter asked me why they don’t make more film like this. I told her Hollywood used to make in the day. We both agreed that we want to see more films with this quality. Anyhow, I am getting off track here. When we got home I was exhausted and decided to post my wish-list in the morning. It’s a good way to start off the weekend, don’t you think?

August 18th, I posted my review for The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford and it got me thinking I want to learn more about Agatha Christie. She was an extraordinary writer and woman as many know. Her works today this day still influence many writers and readers. Her mystery stories will never fade and she will continue to inspire many new writers. So, began my search on Amazon for books about her life and her journey of writing mystery. I hope you enjoy this list and please be sure to review my review of The Woman on the Orient Express.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Agatha Christie An AutobiographyAgatha Christie: An Autobiography by Agatha Christie

Hardcover, 532 pages

When Agatha Christie died on 12 January 1976, she was known throughout the world as the Queen of Crime, unrivalled as the best-selling novelist of all time with two billion books sold in more than 100 languages. Though she kept her private life a mystery, for some years Agatha had secretly written her autobiography, and when it was published after her death, millions of her fans agreed – this was her best story!

From early childhood at the end of the 19th century, through two marriages and two World Wars, and her experiences both as a writer and on archaeological expeditions with her second husband, Max Mallowan, this book reveals the true genius of her legendary success with real passion and openness.

The Grand TourThe Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery by Agatha Christie

Paperback: 384 pages

Agatha Christie is the most widely published author of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. Now, in this fascinating travelogue of the prolific author’s yearlong trip around the British Empire in 1922, Christie provides the clues to the origins of the plots and locales of some of her bestselling mystery novels. Containing never-before-published letters and photos from her travels, and filled with intriguing details about the exotic locations she visited, The Grand Tour is an important book for Agatha Christie fans, revealing an unexpected side to the world’s most renowned mystery writer.

Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John CurranAgatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran

Paperback: 496 pages

Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks is the fascinating exploration of the contents of Agatha Christie’s long hidden notebooks, including illustrations, analyses, and two previously unpublished Hercule Poirot short stories. Not only will Christie’s legions of ardent fans find a treasure chest of new material from the author of such classics as And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Death on the Nile, but Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks is also a must-read tutorial for writers who want to learn the intricacies of constructing crime novels.

Come, Tell Me How You Live An Archaeological Memoir by Agatha Christie MallowanCome, Tell Me How You Live: An Archaeological Memoir by Agatha Christie Mallowan

Paperback: 205 pages

Over the course of her long, prolific career, Agatha Christie gave the world a wealth of ingenious whodunits and page-turning locked-room mysteries featuring Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and a host of other unforgettable characters. She also gave us Come, Tell Me How You Live, a charming, fascinating, and wonderfully witty nonfiction account of her days on an archaeological dig in Syria with her husband, renowned archeologist Max Mallowan. Something completely different from arguably the best-selling author of all time, Come, Tell Me How You Live is an evocative journey to the fascinating Middle East of the 1930s that is sure to delight Dame Agatha’s millions of fans, as well as aficionados of Elizabeth Peters’s Amelia Peabody mysteries and eager armchair travelers everywhere.

Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary MacaskillAgatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill

Paperback: 144 pages

Agatha Christie was the author of over eighty novels and over a dozen plays, including The Mousetrap, the longest continuously running play in theatrical history. Her books have been translated into more languages than the works of Shakespeare.

Agatha Christie’s first home was at Ashfield in Torquay, a house that she retained for nearly half a century, until she sold it in 1938 in order to buy Greenway, her `dream house’ on the River Dart. She spent all her summers there till she died in 1976. It was, she wrote: `the loveliest house in the world.’ Now owned by the National Trust, Greenway was opened to the public in 2009.

Both Devon homes, which featured in several of her novels and stories, were central to Agatha’s life, but she also loved the process of acquiring and planning houses in other places – from Sunningdale to Baghdad: at one time, before the Second World War, she owned eight properties in London. Her enthusiasm for buying, restoring and decorating houses is one of the lesser-known aspects of her life, but one that was very important to her. Agatha Christie at Home – illustrated with photos of her life, her homes and of the Devon she loved – recounts this side of her life, and its author, Hilary Macaskill, writes about some of the houses Agatha Christie lived in, her relationship with the staff who ran them, and her love of domesticity.

Illustrated with rarely-seen archive images and evocative photographs of Greenway and the surrounding countryside, Agatha Christie at Home provides an insight into the life and work of a much-loved author.

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Brief Bio of Agatha from Amazon:

Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and created the detective Hercule Poirot in her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920). She achieved wide popularity with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) and produced a total of eighty novels and short-story collections over six decades.

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Be sure to check out my wish-list from last month HERE -Alexander Pushkin to the Romanovs

Here are the wish lists from a few of my friends this month:

Erin @ Flashlight Commentary

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation-Coming soon!

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired

Bittersweet Confessions of A Book Blogger

Steph Pic retakeThis morning on Facebook I came across a video that a celebrity, Ashton Kutcher, shared about a man explaining what his son’s Down Syndrome was and how he responded about it. He felt he failed his son and pulled over on the side of the road to share his meaningful and heartfelt thoughts about it. One of the things he said was that “disabilities” are perception. We all have different things to teach. He is right!

I am going to share with you a small taste of something that is acutely hard for me to talk about and to be honest about for many reasons. When I was a young child in school, I had what the education system called, “A learning disability.” In my speech and how I processed things or lack of I should say. I struggled with comprehension and my speech affected my relationships with other children at school and often times at church. Needless to say, I had a negative experience to say the least. My mother continuously fought for me and tried her best for the schools to help. The school system failed me but once. When we lived in Clearwater Florida, the elementary school I went to had a speech class and I loved it. The only thing that was hard was that the other children in my regular class knew why I was being pulled out of class and I was bullied horribly. I did have a tutor for years that helped me learn reading comprehension and to help me in other subjects and as I still struggled, I never gave up no matter how hard it was for me. Though I did keep much of my deep fascinations for stories, art, life, history, and how things worked inside me because I couldn’t express them outwardly for much of my life-except with my family. I was completely vulnerable and I admit, that creeps up from time to time even today.

In Clearwater at a church my father was on staff, we had a library filled with so many wonderful books. I would sneak in there sometimes when it was empty and pick a Nancy Drew book off the shelf and find a corner to read in. I struggled and often times soon forgot what I read. Even though no one was in the library, I would sheepishly look up to make sure no one saw me in case they asked me what I was reading. Then I started to make up my own stories in my head because that was easier for me. I needed that escape.

There was also a special education ministry that my mother ran at that church and I often went in the class to volunteer. Those were some of the best memories I have at that church. I still think about the people in that ministry and how they made me feel. I wasn’t judged. That was my happy place.

Middle school was a living hell for me and I would come home crying and plead with my mother so much, she pulled me out of school to home school me and that was the best thing for me. Even my “so-called” friends bullied me and called me horrible names and would opening laugh at me right in my face. Imagine being called, “Stupid and worthless everyday of your childhood?” Imagine what that does to a person. I stood there and took it, then afterwards I would shut my-self up anywhere I could and cried and anguished over life. For a while before I told my mother what was going on, I was so embarrassed to say anything, I would tell her everything was fine. I think I even told her I had several boyfriends. The saddest part is that I started to believe those kids. I felt stupid, ugly and worthless. It has taken over half my life to overcome that. The school would even put me in these, “special classes to get extra help” and the classes were really for behavior problem children. It was not to help with “learning disabilities.” I felt degraded even further. High school didn’t get better but that is another story. To this day, there are moments I struggle with speech and articulate my words verbally. I hear it in my mind but it doesn’t come out properly at times.

What is heartbreaking to me is often times I find myself using the words, disability and stupid or even idiot for that matter. Life is so precious and it is unfortunate that so many make lite of it and the cruelty of our actions is destructive in so many ways. Not only to ourselves but to others. Think about all the brilliant minds shut out of society because of their differences. Think about all the missed opportunities we could have had and have from those precious and gifted people society thinks stupid, or different. They don’t fit the mold so society must shun them. That is utterly unacceptable and cruel.

All those years I longed to express my creative ideas and thoughts and I didn’t know how. I was locked away for so long inside me and I only dreamed of one day that I might have the opportunity to shine and overcome. With hard work, determination, family and trust in God, I have overcome much and have the honor and privilege to work in the book industry and converse with some of the most brilliant and caring minds and souls. Who would have even thought possible?

Love life/Understand/Show compassion/Think before speaking and acting/Give meaning to your life. We all can learn from this.

**Please excuse the typos and grammatical errors. This is a first draft and is not meant to be written on a professional level but a personal one. Thank you.

Stephanie M. Hopkins